Who Pays More for Care: Retirees or Congress?

Readers of Tom Philpott's Military Update Column Sound Off

I say no TRICARE fee increases without transparency from Congress as to what their health care costs are, and how they are going to start paying more for their coverage to offset the country's debt.

My husband and I came from families that didn't have health coverage and could barely make ends meet.  We have worked so hard to be independent, self-reliant adults.  One of the driving factors for my husband serving over 20 years in the National Guard, including two tours in Iraq, was to be able to provide good, affordable medical care for our family and for him and me as we got older.  He served his time.  Our family made many sacrifices so he could serve.  And now our President and Congress want to continue to try to double our healthcare fees!

That alone feels like a betrayal but couple it with the fact that our Congress isn't living under the same standard.  It's an insult!

I understand our debt has to be brought under control, but lessening benefits earned by recent military retirees is not the way! Congress should take the hit first! Our dedicated soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen are protecting our way of life while Congress is a bickering, self-serving, ineffective bunch of spoiled, power-hungry degenerates who are destroying this great nation.  Enough is enough!

BELINDA CORDER
Via email

Few will disagree with your description, at least for quite a few lawmakers in our currently dysfunctional Congress.

They do, however, pay higher health care premiums than military folks, including retirees.

Members of Congress get to choose their health insurance from the same package of options available to federal civilian employees – the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).

On average, the government subsidizes 72 percent of FEHBP insurance costs and federal employees, including members of Congress, pay the rest.  Those premiums are far higher than military retirees pay for TRICARE Prime.

Even when lawmakers, for emergency or privilege, get care at a military hospital, their health insurance usually receives a bill to reimburse the government. – Tom Philpott

DON'T STOP AT SLEEP APNEA

I agree with the VA review of the VASRD (Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities) and I sincerely hope they are looking at other "low-hanging-fruit" medical conditions such as tinnitus and allergic rhinitis.

I worked in the Army disability system for many years and was amazed at how many soldiers were getting disability compensation for non-disabling, routine medical conditions.  Almost 100 percent of soldiers, it seemed, claim subjective tinnitus despite never having complained of, or been seen, for tinnitus for their entire military careers.

The majority of claimants have normal hearing.  They know it is worth a 10 percent disability rating and they also know all they have to do is claim it.  This was particularly evident with soldiers who started their MEB (Medical Evaluation Board) process in Europe then transferred to the continental United States to complete it. They almost never claimed it initially on the draft Narrative Summaries done in Europe but always claimed it once they started the IDES (Integrated Disability Evaluation System) stateside.

Physicians have little objection to soldiers claiming tinnitus who have documented medical conditions such as hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, or serious ear infections.

Another "low hanging fruit" is allergic rhinitis.  This condition is also worth a 10 disability but rarely causes any true disability and is almost always controlled by other-the- counter medications.   For physicians in the trenches, we would welcome the VA asking our input.

JEFFREY M. EDMONDSON, M.D.
Family Medicine Physician
Fairfax, Va.

TARGETING THE MILITARY

Why is it every time federal spending has to be cut it is the U.S. service member, active and retired, who have to take the hit?

I retired in 1999 and started paying for TRICARE.  When I joined in 1979 medical care was free to those who served 20 years.

The fighting forces of America have sweated and bleed for our great country.  Have our Congressmen and women? Would they give up there plush jobs and join the service if needed?

I have not voted once for these policies of taking benefit from service men and women.  I thought the American people had the final say, not someone we put into office who now voice not what we want but what they think we want and need.  I am capable of choosing what is best for me.

Our members of Congress need to rethink what they are doing.

WILLIAM H. CRISP
USAF-Ret.

You're mistaken.  Military health care wasn't free for retirees even before you entered service except for space-available care at base hospitals or clinics.  Retirees in 1979, when you joined, and for many years before that, were covered by CHAMPUS, a fee-for-service health insurance benefit.   It's called TRICARE Standard today but still operates as it did in 1967, after it was enacted in 1966 as an amendment to the Dependents Medical Care Act.  –T.P.

APNEA'S TOLL

I am a retired military and one of the 114,000 veterans that a change to the VASRD rating for sleep apnea would not affect as I have been awarded 50 percent service-connected disability compensation since I retired in 1998.

Revisions will obviously be needed in the future.  But the comments from advisory committee member Mark W. Smith were irresponsible.

He wanted to know why VA grants 50 percent disability to vets who need a CPAP for a good night's sleep. That trivializes the condition.  Sleep   apnea can lead to poor health overall, heart conditions, diabetes and a multitude of illnesses potentially fatal. Also, if you are not getting quality sleep you can fall asleep while driving.

Masks are uncomfortable and can negatively impact your sex life and marriage.  If I could end my sleep apnea by giving back the compensation I would I would gladly do so.

Smith also compared use of a CPAP to needing eyeglasses.

"If I don't use my glasses, my earnings are going to be a hell of a lot less because I'm blind," he said. "Once I put them on, no problem."  So if a CPAP "pretty much cures the problem, why would you give a service rating for it?"

Again he is ill informed.  The CPAP does not cure apnea.  And who knows why VA gives a 50 percent rating for it.  We allow the U.S. Post Office to remain open while losing a billion dollars a month.  A 50-percent rating for a single veteran is $810 a month, which pales in comparison to $1 billion, don't you think!

If the VA is going to start taking money from vets who have this condition, I hope they also intend to look at hemorrhoids, bunions, hysterectomies and that perennial favorite, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It seems someone have merely has to step into Afghanistan or Iraq these days and you PTSD. 

RICK REES
Orange Park, Fla.

Letters may be edited for clarity or length.  Write to Military Forum, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, send e-mail to militaryforum@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com

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Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families.

Visit Tom Philpott's Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

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